Precursor activities included the Walk for Hunger in March 1982 organized by the Clinton Ministerial Association. The Soup Kitchen, started in 1983, was initially located at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, then moved to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At its peak, about twenty-five clients daily were served over a two-year span.
Shortly thereafter, the Clinton Ministerial Association sought to establish a permanent organization through which the member churches could efficiently pool and administer local benevolent giving. This idea was given a physical home in September of 1986 when Mildred Powell donated the original building at 102 Sampson Street. Our organization was founded on August 7, 1986 under the name Clinton United Services Crisis Center, Inc. The original Board of Directors included J.C. Pridgen, Sr., Bill Fulton, Lee Pridgen, James Pardue, and Leighton McKeithan.
On March 16, 1988, the name was changed to Sampson Crisis Center to reflect its countywide church membership and outreach. Soon after, the adjacent building at 104 Sampson Street, donated by Ms. Powell’s estate after her death, provided space for the Thrift Shop. Marie Monroe managed the shop during those early years, increasing revenue from $2,000 annually to $33,000 by the time of her retirement in 1996.
During the first two decades of the Sampson Crisis Center, funding sources included United Way, FEMA, Thrift Shop revenue, member church donations, and individual cash gifts. Services expanded to include emergency client services, scheduled food distribution, and logistical assistance with county-wide charity activity. Thrift Shop activity became difficult to carry out in the small buildings on Sampson Street, particularly with limited parking.
In 1997, the Center purchased three contiguous buildings on 309 Main Street, doubling its physical size to 6304 square feet. The cost was $34,500 plus $123,000 in renovations, all of which was paid within three years. Many of us still have vivid memories of our Building Note Burning gala at the Sampson Agri-Exposition Center on August 19, 2000.
Between 2000 and 2014, Sampson Crisis Center was challenged by growing demand for client services. Climbing staffing costs and slowly declining outside revenue made the Center increasingly dependent upon Thrift Shop earnings. Though gross revenue at the Thrift Shop exceeded $90,000 during this period, the funding proved insufficient to continue the breadth of services for which the Crisis Center had been known for over 28 years. After a lengthy meeting of all past board chairs, led by Johnny Pridgen and Thomas Farrow of First Baptist Church (900 College St.), the decision was made to discontinue food and emergency services. The Center was nearly insolvent.
The Thrift Shop, however, continued to generate positive cash flow. Operating hours were never curtailed or interrupted. The Thrift Shop chugged along quietly and successfully with a low public profile. Due to the loyal cadre of volunteers, and to the modest compensation of store co-managers Gloria Lee and Margaret Spivey, the shop’s gross revenues of $300 to $500 daily were sufficient to provide monthly profits in the range of $2,000. More important, Thomas Farrow and Johnny Pridgen were able to direct financial support to human service organizations across Sampson County. Over these four years, about $30,000 was disbursed to United Way, U-Care, Sampson Community College Foundation, and many others.
July 2018 to Present
In July 2018, with Thomas Farrow having accepted a call outside of the region, and with Johnny Pridgen pondering the long-term future of the organization, another meeting was held. The group again included past chairs. Options included liquidation versus business changes that would position the organization to serve for decades into the future. The group in attendance was mindful of the rich legacy of the Crisis Center going back thirty-two years. Another contextual factor in the discussion was the solid current financial status of the organization: $160,000 cash on hand, fully-owned real estate, and a successful business model producing reliable monthly profits.
The consensus was to reaffirm our Christian mission of service to people within Sampson County. We also felt strongly that a working board of directors -- chosen by the board itself -- would provide the nimble energy needed to propel us into the next decades of service. Tim Howard provided legal assistance in adjusting our bylaws. Gary Rouse provided financial advice. The new six-member Board of Directors was established: Peggy Melvin, Willie Mitchell, Johnny Pridgen, Margaret Spivey, Paul Viser, Rhonda West. On August 8, 2018, we changed our name to Sampson Partners to mark our metamorphosis. This change also reflects our partnership with local like-minded organizations with missions aligned with our own, simply that of Christian service and support.
The current brisk rate of change was fortuitously electrified further by the availability of two contiguous lots on Main Street. Lew Starling sold these lots to Sampson Partners for $45,000, well below their appraised value. Due to our strong financial position, we were able to move quickly and cleanly on this opportunity, simply writing a check for the land purchase.
This doubling of our square footage would mean nothing were it not for its role in our purpose and mission. Following the example of the Habitat for Humanity Restores and drawing from our own firsthand experience with the Thrift Shop – now newly named The Shop on Main -- our plan is to dedicate the new building to the sale of furniture and building supplies. We have every expectation that we can increase our cash generation multi-fold, all of which will be returned to the people of Sampson County in a focused, mission-driven manner.
At this moment, our leadership is simultaneously working on several fronts. These include granular specifics with building contractors to finalize plans and to obtain a cost estimate. Our objective is to occupy a paid off building no later than mid-2020. During this transition, Greg Thornton has provided warehouse storage at no cost so that we can move now to accelerate furniture acquisitions and sales without the fear of having to turn down donations which may transiently exceed our current marginal floor space. With cash on hand and with several unsolicited pledges, we fully expect that soft fund-raising will be successful. There is a definite grassroots support for our organization. Simply presenting the project
specifics may be all that is necessary to proceed on a cash basis. Those efforts will begin no later than February 2019.
Other fronts and initiatives include an active internet presence. We have purchased the domain www.sampsonpartners.org and we plan to have the site up and running by the end of January 2019. We are seeking a bilingual shop manager whom we hope to have in place within weeks. We need to buttress the current team of volunteers, including men who are now under-represented and are especially needed for our augmented furniture business.
Paul Viser, President
Sampson Partners, Inc.